Return to Transcripts main page


Majority of U.S. Reopens as Death Toll Nears 90,000; White House Advisor: CDC 'Let the Country Down'; Source: Ousted Inspector General Was Investigating if Pompeo Made Staffer Run Personal Errands. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Texas reported its highest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases yet on Saturday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There should not be one-size-fits-all approaches to reopening, but reopen we must.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISOR: The CDC really let the country down with the testing. They had a bad test, and that did set us back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you hear Navarro talk, it's very discouraging, because you can tell that there's an agenda.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to make something clear: vaccine or no vaccine, we're back.

BARACK OBAMA (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Doing what's convenient, what's easy, that's how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grownups, including some with fancy titles, still think that way.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, May 18, 6 a.m. here in New York.

This morning, 48 of the 50 states are reopening in some form. And we saw Americans across the country taking advantage of the relaxed guidelines over the weekend.

At the same time, we also see some places experiencing spikes in cases. On Saturday, Texas reported its largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases. That is thought to be connected to an outbreak in meatpacking plants. Texas is one of 17 states that is seeing a rise in new cases. But 18

states are seeing new cases decline. So we'll break down all of the trends, coming up for you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Also this morning, the CDC firing back after a top White House official said the agency let the country down on testing.

Overnight, our Nick Valencia reported on an outpouring of outrage from CDC officials, including one who said, quote, "This administration has shown time and time again that it has a problem with science. We are giving them science, and they don't seem to want it."

As of this morning, nearly 90,000 Americans have been killed in this pandemic.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Rosa Flores, who is in Florida where the full state begins relaxing some restrictions today -- Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. All but two states around the country have loosened restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

And just as you said, including Florida where I am right now, where for the first time, the entire state is under phase one of the reopening plan.

But as states continue to move forward, the CDC and the White House appear to be stuck in a blame game about how quickly to reopen and who's to blame for mishaps.


FLORES (voice-over): At parks and beaches --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been pretty cooped up like everybody and to get out here and get in the water, the water is really nice.

FLORES: -- restaurants and even casinos --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a while. So it's, like, time to just finally get out somewhere else.

FLORES: -- from coast to coast, scenes of relaxed social distancing. Here in Florida, nearly 800 new coronavirus cases were announced Sunday, right before the state fully enters phase one of reopening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've seen some of the statistics about states throughout the United States that have reopened and started to see some level of resurgence, and that's obviously a big concern for us.

FLORES: In Ocean City, a practice run for New Jersey's beaches before they open statewide to limited numbers for Memorial Day weekend.

Beach-goers in Los Angeles must remain six feet apart and wear masks when they aren't in the water. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, everything is spaced out, how it

should be. So we don't feel that much at risk.

FLORES: Outdoor dining spaces and bars are allowed to welcome back customers in Ohio, sending patrons to jam pack this bar in Columbus. The governor admitting the risk of reopening the economy and asking residents to take more responsibility.

Texas experienced its largest reported single-day increase of confirmed cases Saturday, according to the State Department of Health Services. It's unclear if the spike is due to more testing availability or the virus spreading quickly.

As much of New York state opens up, Governor Andrew Cuomo urged residents to get tested, even getting one himself. But in New York City, the mayor warned people about getting too relaxed too soon.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: If you don't follow these rules, unfortunately, there's a danger of that boomerang and even more restrictions.

FLORES: Meanwhile, in Washington, harsh words between a top Trump administration official and the CDC. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro says the agency let the country down on testing.

NAVARRO: Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.

FLORES: One senior CDC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, fired back at Navarro, telling CNN, "If there is criticism of the CDC, ultimately, Mr. Navarro is being critical of the president and the man who President Trump placed to lead the agency."


FLORES: Here in Florida, the two most populated counties of Miami-Dade and Broward, which also account for about 50 percent of the nearly 46,000 cases, will start reopening today. That means that restaurants and retail will be allowed to reopen at about 50 percent capacity. Bars will remain closed. Hotels will remain closed.

For the rest of the state, for the first time today, John and Alisyn, gyms will be allowed to reopen.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting, Rosa. Thank you very much for the status report.

Joining us now, we have CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. And Dr. Amesh Adalja. He is an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins. Great to have both of you.

So this is one moment of truth. I mean, today, as 48 states are basically reopening, but of course, there will be another moment of truth, you know, three to four weeks from now where we see the effect. But at the moment, 18 states in the country have declining cases.

Here's the snapshot of the map and where we are. Seventeen states at the moment still have cases going up.

And Dr. Adalja, I think that Texas is an interesting case study. So Texas saw its highest single-day spike in cases this weekend. And I think that there were 1,800.

And you know, I mean, if this is instructive for us in going forward, since we'll see other states that have something like this, how will researchers figure out if just more testing is being done or if more illness has broken out?


DR. AMESH ADALJA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, JOHNS HOPKINS: There's an important metric you can look at, and that's the percent positive of tests. And that will kind of give you a better gauge if this -- if this was just because they've done a lot of targeted testing. And that's what we've heard this in Texas, in Amarillo, that there were meat processing plants that had targeted testing done.

Then you look at the percent positive. When the percent positive is in the low single digits, meaning you're looking pretty hard to find positive cases, that's a good trend. If you see the percent positive going up to 15, 16, 20 percent, then you're in trouble. That's, I think, the better metric to look at than just the total number of cases. Because there's going to be variations, based on what's testing and where you're testing and what's going on in terms of those meat processing plants, which are a real wild card in some places.

BERMAN: You can see the trend line right there. The percent of positive cases in Texas is flatter, even going down a little bit, which indicates they are testing more and therefore or -- and also turning up more positive cases.

Again, more cases is not a good thing, even if you are testing more. You want to keep the number of cases down. But if the positivity rate is low, that is a decent sign.

Juliette, to me, you know, we've been talking or obsessing over states, quote unquote, "reopening" or relaxing restrictions.


BERMAN: And I'm not sure it's the right metric. I think the right metric is what people are doing and what people say they want.


BERMAN: And every time we look at the polls, if you ask people, you know, are current restrictions on businesses in your state, 58 percent say appropriate, 21 percent say too restrictive. Twenty percent say not restrictive enough.

So you have nearly 80 percent of people who say it's fine or not restrictive enough.

And then when you ask people, is it safe to attend gatherings of ten or more people now, 9 percent -- 9 percent say now. Sixty-six percent say at the end of July or later.

KAYYEM: Right.

BERMAN: They want to wait. But it just seems whatever the states do, you know, we need to watch what people choose to do on their own.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. This is the confidence gap. And this is what we're going to have to grapple with.

Look, closing -- shockingly, closing was the easy part. This is the really hard part, and one of the challenges in the sort of weeks and months ahead is we -- as we extend the deadline, look, John, you know, school districts haven't said they're opening up. Major institutions are still keeping their employees at home. So a lot of things are not going to change.

And so what we're looking for from the planning perspective in terms of how do you open up, that's where we are now. How do you open up safely? Is you looked at contact intensity. A bar is different than a restaurant. I cannot believe that they're opening up gyms.

You look at the number of contacts. So five people is different than 500. And I think most Americans get that.

And then third, you look at what modifications can you put in place to protect people? You know, you only have one-third of the tables in a restaurant or you only bring one-third of your employees back.

So that's -- that's happening across the United States. It's an experiment in real time. Because we do have -- we are still going up in many states. But -- and Americans are not confident.

Look, no tests, no tracing, no treatments, no vaccine. Why would they be confident? Why would they be confident?

CAMEROTA: But Juliette, why do gyms shock you more than bars? I mean, the scenes that we're seeing at bars, they're much closer than they will be at gyms.

KAYYEM: They all shock me. You know, look, I mean, some of these places, I cannot believe they're opening up. We should look at critical infrastructure, manufacturing, get the economy moving again in terms of sort of the big issues. We've got to start thinking about schools for real, because a lot of us are going to be home, regardless of what happens.

Restaurants, I think that there is some creative thinking in terms of the number of tables. But bars and gyms, I'm sort of surprised. Because you know, unless you sort of keep people, you know, two people together, and then six feet apart, two people together, that's a lot of engineering. Right? And it takes away from the experience of why you go to bars in the first place. And that gets to the confidence gap. Right? That gets to me sitting at

home thinking, Is it really worth going to a bar if that's going to be the experience?

So I think that we still have many, many weeks and months ahead until we begin to feel confident, and that's going to be aligned with whether the Trump administration can help us feel more confident about tests and tracing and treatments and then, ultimately, a vaccine.

BERMAN: Look, there is science behind why a gym may be a suspect place to open.

KAYYEM: Right.

BERMAN: The heavier you breathe, the more particles you put in the air.

KAYYEM: Right.

BERMAN: And there have been all kinds of research about that. You know, singing, these choruses that go. There's a reason why it spreads among a chorus, because you're deep breathing and putting the virus into the air. So that is a reason to concern.

Speaking of science, Dr. Adalja, we heard Peter Navarro critical of the CDC. And it's acknowledged, I think, across the board that the CDC, the testing was screwed up at the beginning.

But there does seem to be a concerted effort now by the White House to blame the CDC for failures and treat the CDC as if it's this foreign entity, disconnected completely from the administration.


And CDC officials don't like it one bit. They're pushing back to our Nick Valencia overnight, saying, quote, "This administration has shown time and time again that it has a problem with science. We are giving them science, and they don't seem to want it."

How do you see this brewing feud?

ADALJA: Definitely have been problems with the early stages of this pandemic and what happened at the CDC with testing and the testing protocols.

But we have to realize that the CDC is the best cadre of experts that there are in the world. And when the CDC is not leading an outbreak response, we're all suffering because of this.

And to attack the CDC, which is part of your administration, is not what we want to do. We want the CDC fortified. We want it strengthened. We want to see it emboldened. We want to see the CDC director and CDC staff speaking to the general public every day, like they did during 2009 H1N1 and during Ebola.

That's when Americans get their confidence back. That the people that actually are the best experts in the world are the ones guiding this response, that they're not being sidelined, that that -- they're not being politicized. They're not being told what to say or what not to say because they don't want to upset somebody. That's the way you do an outbreak response, not what we've seen so far, with the politicization and the side stepping of the CDC, almost every step of the way.

And we want to know what happened to the CDC with testing, but we're never going to find that out if this is all politicized and -- and we see this kind of continual battering of the CDC director.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Adalja, speaking of testing, there's something interesting happening in some states. And that is this paradoxical situation where, finally, some states have the capacity to test as many people as want it or demand it, and now people aren't showing up.

For instance, Utah, only about a third of the people -- they have a capacity for three times the amount of people that are showing up. And I just wonder if you have any insight into do people -- have people been so trained over these months to think there's not enough tests that that message has seeped in much more than the message of now you can go out and get a test?

ADALJA: I do think that the early stages of this pandemic got people basically desensitized to the need for testing. Because they couldn't get it. It was burdensome. It was cumbersome. You had to get a prescription. You had to do all these kinds of things that made it very bureaucratic.

And now we're in a place where testing is much better in many parts of the country, and maybe people aren't coming forward.

The other part of that is that we are seeing decreased number of cases in some states, so there may be just less sick people.

I worked over the weekend here in Pittsburgh, and I sent multiple tests and they all came back negative. So there is probably less community prevalence in certain parts of the country, so less people are sick to begin with, with this, because we're in a different phase of the pandemic right now.

CAMEROTA: OK. Juliette Kayyem, Dr. Adalja, thank you both very much for all of the information.

So coming up, President Trump fires another inspector general, and we have new details on what that inspector general was investigating. Next.



BERMAN: Developing this morning, CNN learned that the State Department inspector general fired by President Trump was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for alleged misuse of government resources.

CNN's Alex Marquardt live in Washington with the latest on this -- Alex.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that's right. Misuse of government resources and, therefore, taxpayer money.

The inspector's -- general's name was Steve Linick. He has been at the State Department for seven years. And according to a Democratic aide speaking to our colleague, Zach Cohen, he had been looking into the possible misuse of a political appointee by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to do personal tasks like walking his dog, picking up dry cleaning and making dinner reservations for Secretary Pompeo and his wife.

Critics are now calling Linick's firing part of an unprecedented purge of watchdogs by the Trump administration.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): In just six weeks, a purge: one watchdog removed after the next. In total, five inspectors general or officials acting in that role since the beginning of April. All but one dismissed late on a Friday night as the weekend began.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Well, this is new to us and typical of the White House announcing something that is very unsavory. They would do it late on a Friday night.

MARQUARDT: The latest to draw a controversy is the Friday night firing of the State Department's inspector general, Steve Linick. He had launched an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And according to two sources, whether Pompeo and his wife had used a politically appointed staffer for personal tasks, including dog walking, picking up dry cleaning and making dinner reservations.

Linick, who had previously issued two reports critical of the State Department, also played a small but key role in the impeachment inquiry.

Another likely strike against Linick was that he had been named by Barack Obama, many of whose appointees had been seen by the Trump administration as insufficiently loyal and part of the so-called "deep state."

White House economic advisor Peter Navarro said there's no room for anyone not loyal to the Trump agenda.

NAVARRO: I support whatever this president does in terms of his hiring and firing decisions.

MARQUARDT: Also Friday night, the Transportation Department acting inspector general was replaced and a new one nominated.

Inspectors general are vital to keeping agencies and departments in check, watching for wrongdoing and reporting it, oversight that the president has bristled at.

TRUMP: Did I hear the word "inspector general," really? It's wrong.

MARQUARDT: The former inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, had taken a whistleblower complaint about the president and Ukraine to Congress, angering the White House and leading to the impeachment proceedings.

Atkinson was fired last month, just days before the Pentagon's acting inspector general, Glenn Fine, who is overseeing spending on the coronavirus response, was also removed.


And two weeks ago, the official serving as the watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services was replaced after investigators found shortages of testing kits and masks, along with delays in coronavirus test results.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): When you fire them with impunity, you are sending a chilling message to every inspector general of every department that, in fact, when you step on the administration's toes, then you are fired. That cannot -- that cannot stand.

MARQUARDT: Leading House and Senate Democrats quickly announced an investigation of Steve Linick's firing, saying it may be "an illegal act of retaliation."

Few Republicans have spoken up. Senator Mitt Romney called it "unprecedented" and "without good cause."

Senator Chuck Grassley saying the president's explanation "simply is not sufficient."

President Trump wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the State Department firing: "It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General."

Pelosi responded that the White House has yet to provide an explanation.

PELOSI: The president has the right to fire any federal employee. But the fact is, if it looks like it's in retaliation for something that the I.G., the inspector general, is doing, that could be unlawful.


MARQUARDT: So as you heard there, Democrats are saying that this could be illegal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not responded to a request for comment.

In the meantime, there will be a new acting inspector general at the State Department. His name is Stephen Akard. He is close to the vice president. He has been serving as the director of foreign missions of the State Department. He served in a number of diplomatic posts around the world. But he did also work closely with Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana when Pence was the governor there -- John. BERMAN: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you very much for this reporting.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst David Gregory. David, this is a clear, intentional obliteration of oversight. So the question is, why does oversight make Donald Trump so nervous? And why are Republicans, by and large, willing to let him get away with it?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's an important question. Because the likes of Senator Grassley, who have always stood up for inspectors general before, need to have their voice heard.

Because there's a broader principle here. We know. We've been covering the story in and out here, day in and day out throughout the Trump presidency. He doesn't like oversight. He doesn't like anyone questioning him. He doesn't like it whether it's Congress doing it or inspectors general. He doesn't want to have it. He wants complete loyalty. Well, that's not how it works. And Republicans need to stand up for a broader principle here.

Oversight in Washington is not a great game. It doesn't go well with the other party. We've seen it go back to the Benghazi investigation led by Republicans and one congressman, Mike Pompeo, or Democrats impeaching this president. It's always disruptive, controversial and divisive. But there's a reason why you have these kinds of accountability checks within the bureaucracy. Because they're worthwhile.

There's no evidence here that these inspectors general have an ax to grind over the president's firing. Only that he doesn't like to be questioned. So it really goes against the spirit of having an inspector general if you -- if you put someone in there who's loyal.

That's the key thing that I keep coming back to, is that they want loyalty. They don't want oversight. You know, both parties have to agree that that's something that you've got to have, you know, beyond the Trump era.

CAMEROTA: So David, if you fire five inspector generals in the space of a month, and you fire some of them at 5 p.m. on a Friday after some of the news cycle is over, at some point don't people have to ask, what are you trying to hide?

GREGORY: Yes. I think so. I think in any circumstance you do. It's such a clear pattern. You know, whether it was four inspector generals. You know, firing Jim Comey at the FBI, which the president seeks to justify, and he's got supporters in doing that.

And there may be supporters within his ranks. Maybe Pompeo himself didn't like the nature of this investigation. We don't know all the particular facts here, other than there have been other questions that have come up.

But there has to be a commitment to support inspectors general. Unless there is a clear breach of judgment or credibility. Very often they are criticized in the reports that they put out. But there's a commitment by Republicans and Democrats to have them in place in the first place as some kind of check and balance.

By this point, a pattern is well-established that the administration in the darkest of night will try to purge anyone that they think is disloyal to them. And because they've said there is such a thing that is a myth that there is some deep state that's working to get Donald Trump. There's no evidence for it.


Other administrations have also faced internal criticism by inspectors general or other elements of the bureaucracy. It does not become the idea of a deep state.

And again, there will be life after President Donald Trump, whether that's one term or two terms. The Democrats and Republicans better get right with the idea that there are certain precedents that they want to keep here in order for government to operate effectively and openly.

BERMAN: Look, this is, again, another example of the blowing up of norms. And if you let a president explode norms, he or she will do so until you try to stop them.

And once these things are blown up, you can't put the pieces back. You just don't. It just doesn't happen in Washington. So by and large, inspectors general by presidential edict now, we can assume, are going to go away. There will not be independent bureaucratic oversight, because the president doesn't want it. He just doesn't want it at this point, David. I mean, again, and -- and Congress seems to be willing to let it happen.

GREGORY: Right. And that's the key. Congress has got to step in to do something. Otherwise, we may not have them until we have another president who will see their value.

And again, prior presidents under very difficult circumstances -- war, go back to, you know, the inspector general's report after the trials of Timothy McVeigh, you know, about the handling of evidence within the FBI and other things that were done within the Justice Department. They can be inconvenient. They can be highly critical, but they are meant to be transparent and to hold these bureaucracies to account.

And that's why you have people who are political and people who are not political in these agencies. It helps to make the government work better, even if it doesn't work well all the time.

The notion of a president saying, No, there's a deep state. I'll purge anyone who's not loyal. Again, that doesn't happen in a democratic system.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who as Alex Marquardt just reported, we believe was being investigated, he did something interesting over the weekend. He changed his tune a bit in terms of what they think the origin of the coronavirus was. So let's remind people back on May 3, this is what Secretary of State

Pompeo said about where he thinks it began.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Secretary, have you seen anything that gives you high confidence that it originated in that Wuhan lab?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think there's enormous evidence that that's where this began.


CAMEROTA: OK. So he at that time claimed there was enormous evidence, but the intel agencies didn't provide any and didn't concur with that. And then yesterday, he said something -- or this weekend, he said something different. So listen to this radio show.


POMPEO (via phone): We know it began in Wuhan, but we don't know from where or from whom. And those are important things. One of the key facts for scientists and epidemiologists to build out vaccines and therapeutics and to identify how this was ultimately delivered to the world, you have to know where patient zero began and how patient zero became infected.


CAMEROTA: David, the fact that he now says, "But we don't know from where or from whom," that's just a notable difference.

GREGORY: Yes, yes. It's a -- it's quite a softening. I mean, the United States and China have been on a heading that is more like head- butting over the past several weeks over this issue. And the secretary of state has fueled it. There's been big backlash within China, from its foreign minister and others responding to those suggestions.

The scientific community do not believe it was started in the lab. I think the secretary of state left himself a little bit of room to still make that argument.

But I think that at the top of the government here, there is some realization that, in the pursuit of a vaccine, in the pursuit of a broader trade deal, right now, they've got to cool things down with China a little bit, because with the economic circumstances here and in China and the result of this virus, there's going to have to be some cooperation. They cannot go toward a path of complete hard line, breaking apart.

BERMAN: All right. David Gregory for us. David, thank you very much for joining us. I do like the mood lighting. I feel like we should be sipping some brandy.

GREGORY: Thank you. A little softer this morning.

BERMAN: A little brandy.

GREGORY: It's early.

CAMEROTA: He is sipping some brandy, believe me.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you, David, appreciate it. Your etchings are lovely.

A big moment on the world stage about to happen. The Chinese president is about to address the World Health Organization assembly. We are waiting to hear how he's going to respond to accusations that China suppressed information about the outbreak. That's next.